By Marc Purtell | Director, SEO
Search engine optimization is no exception. It is a form of marketing that has evolved at light speed over the past 15 years.
Drastic changes beginning with the rise of Google in the late 1990s, and carried out through search engine algorithm updates, the growth of the World Wide Web and increasing expertise within the SEO community have become commonplace in how search engine optimization is handled.
In order to understand the future of SEO it’s important to first understand where it has been. For a visual representation of the evolution of SEO, download this presentation by Adam Riff, MediaWhiz’s SVP of digital strategy.
BG: SEO Before Google
Before Google, a webpage could rank on content and content alone. Simply having a keyword on a page was enough for it to show up high in search-engine results. Webmaster began to realize that the more times the keyword was on a page the higher it would rank. This is where black-hat SEO tactics began with keyword stuffing. Keywords could be added to a page over and over again, even invisibly (using white text on a white background for example). That resulted in higher page ranks and stronger search engine results
Once Google entered the mix, ranking organically became much more difficult. Rather than giving webmasters complete control of how well their content ranked by basing it entirely on-site, rankings began to be treated similar to an election. Users were given a say in how well content ranked in terms of relevancy to a search result by way of linking.
A fundamental new dynamic came to the world of SEO. Content would rank higher if it had more votes (links).
As Google began to evolve its algorithm it began to take into account the words used in links to content (anchor text). Anyone could tell Google what their content was about through keyword stuffing. But what others said about content became meaningful to Google. If someone linked to a page using “search engine optimization” as the anchor text, Google had a good idea that the page was indeed about search engine optimization. Now content could be ranked high by links dictating to search engines how relevant it was to specific keywords.
That worked for Google for a while until SEO professionals began manipulating the algorithm to artificially generate links to contt using keyword-optimized anchor text. As a result, Google began assigning value to links based on position of the link on the page, relevancy of the linking site to the content linked to and the authority of the linking page based on the links pointing to it. At this point, quality of links was regarded higher than quantity
Social Media Begins to Influence Search
The rise of social media launched a new metric for gauging the authority of content. Social media sites allowed users to share useful content with those in their networks/communities. This became a very compelling content quality signal for Google and the other search engines. They knew that if content was good enough that target users were sharing it with their friends there must be real value in that content, hence the incorporation of social signals as an authority factor. By this point, in order for content to rank well it had to be well-written, engaging, optimized for keywords and have strong links and social signals pointing to it.
Content must now be completely unique and provide value to users in a way they can’t find elsewhere. Inbound link profiles must be spam free. Overuse of keyword-rich anchor text will result in a Penguin-based penalty.
The newest and potentially most impactful quality factor is AuthorRank. Organic search performance is no longer just about the authority of the content itself. It also factors in the authority of the content’s author.
AuthorRank is built over time with a combination of proper page and site set-up that credits content to the author via their Google Plus profile, and continuously creating engaging content that generates comments, social shares, links, and so on.
The Future of SEO
Looking ahead to the future, the evolution we have seen thus far indicates that the SEO trend of focusing on users first and search engines second will continue. When producing new content, marketers should leverage trusted authors and ensure their site provides real value to users so authority signals will be earned. The evolution of SEO has brought us to a present in which SEO matters more than ever before and will continue to matter far into the future.
Adam Riff, MediaWhiz SVP of digital strategy, also contributed to this post.